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The Extra Pass: Recapping the 2014 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference

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The MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference was held in Boston this past weekend, the eighth in an annual series intended to bring the sports world and the advanced statistics community together to discuss common areas where the two fields can share and benefit from an increasingly abundant amount of raw data that measures athletes performing at the highest levels.

There were plenty of panel discussions and research presentations attended, so here’s a summary of the highlights of what went down over the two-day experience.

– Tanking and the draft that seems to incentivize it were ongoing topics at the conference, and on the basketball analytics panel Friday, Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo admitted to trying to tank for a high draft pick a couple of seasons ago. However, he wasn’t exactly able to achieve his desired result.

– One of the more interesting and honest discussions came on a negotiation panel that featured a professor from the Harvard Business School moderating a talk between Rockets GM Daryl Morey and Warriors GM Bob Myers. The two NBA men were very open in discussing their personal shortcomings where negotiations are concerned, and Morey and Myers shared some unique inside information on how the Dwight Howard free agent frenzy last summer affected each of their respective franchises. (Hint: It caused Morey to actually call up Mark Cuban to try to trade for Dirk Nowitzki.)

– The most interesting research paper presented from a basketball perspective may have been the one to address the Hot Hand theory, which has been widely debunked in the past. The new research took into account information from SportVU cameras that wasn’t available to previous researchers, and the conclusion was that the Hot Hand does in fact exist, and that players believe in it and act accordingly. Perhaps not surprisingly, J.R. Smith was one of the textbook examples.

– Not everyone at the conference was 100 percent on board with advanced statistical data and its immediate implementation, at least not without first evaluating who exactly is putting it all together. Stan Van Gundy was amazing on the basketball analytics panel, and explained frankly and in detail why the data may not mean much to those actually running the team from a basketball standpoint if it’s only being assembled by statisticians, as opposed to those who are highly experienced in the game itself.

– NBA Commissioner Adam Silver appeared at the conference on Saturday, and had an extended conversation with Malcolm Gladwell about a variety of topics. The draft lottery system and the perceived issue of tanking were among the more interesting, and while Silver continues to define tanking differently than the rest of us, he at least appears to be very open to looking at ways of changing things so that losing, in any capacity, won’t be at all incentivized in the future.

Report: Doc Rivers says Clippers not interested in moving Blake Griffin

Blake Griffin, Jason Smith
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NBA general managers are vultures — if they see an opportunity to buy low on a player, they circle and hope to pick off a meal.

You can be sure Clippers’ GM Doc Rivers phone was full of those calls starting soon after the word leaked of Blake Griffin required surgery on his hand after punching a team employee. The vultures have called with lowball offers, and even when shot down some teams have made sure word of their call leaked out in a “look how hard we are working to get you a star” kind of way. It’s good for PR.

The Clippers are not looking to trade Blake Griffin. Right now, at least.

From Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times.

Bolch expanded upon that in an article.

The Clippers have fielded calls involving various trade proposals but remain reluctant to part with a cornerstone of their franchise and a player who, at age 26, was having possibly his best season before he was sidelined by a quadriceps injury the day after Christmas and subsequently a broken hand sustained in a scuffle with assistant equipment manager Matias Testi.

Right now the vultures are circling, and lowball offers are all the Clippers will get — they couldn’t come close to getting value back. This season the Clippers will get Griffin healthy and hope they can make a deep playoff run.

If the Clippers are bounced in the first or second round this spring, they have some soul searching to do — can the core of Griffin, Chris Paul, and DeAndre Jordan beat the Golden State Warriors? If they feel the answer is no, then they must consider changes. And if they were to shake up the core, Griffin may be the most movable piece — plus the Clippers have shown they can play well without him.

However, the Clippers may try to upgrade the pieces around that core and make one more run at the Warriors, then consider breaking things up in 2017 if it doesn’t work out. It’s hard to put together a core as good as the Clippers have right now, and breaking it up comes with great risk. They are not just going to leap blindly off that cliff.

The bottom line is, any Griffin trade rumors you hear up until Draft night, and likely beyond that, are more teams trying to look good to their fan bases than valid trade talks.

Robert Horry says Stephen Curry better offensively than peak Kobe Bryant

Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant, right, greets Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry (30) prior to an NBA basketball game Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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Stephen Curry has a long road ahead to walk away from the game with the resume and legacy that Kobe Bryant will leave with come April.

But is he already a bigger threat on offense than Kobe ever was?

Former NBA player, Kobe teammate, and Lakers studio guy Robert Horry said yes, while on SiriusXM NBA Radio with host Justin Termine. Here is his quote (hat tip Hoopshype):

“Kobe in his prime really wasn’t that great of a three-point shooter. He was a drive, get-to-the-hole, dunk-on-you type of guy. Steph can drive and float you. He can shoot it from half court. You have to guard him at all times.”

Peak Kobe on offense (the 2006-07 season, I would say) averaged 31.6 points and 5.4 assists per game, with a true shooting percentage of 58 percent and a usage rate of 33.6. This season Curry is averaging 29.8 points and 6.4

This season Curry is averaging 29.8 points and 6.4 assists, with a true shooting percentage of 68.2 percent and a usage rate of 32.3.

There are a lot of difficulties in comparing the apples and oranges of those seasons, but we can safely say that because of the three ball Curry is a more efficient scorer than Kobe ever was. He is certainly more dangerous that way. I agree that Curry creates more problems on offense because of how his shooting stretches the defense, plus he can drive the lane.

Kobe, at his peak, was a better defender than Curry. (Curry is better than some critics want to give him credit for, he led the NBA in steals last season, but he does it more within a team system where he is solid, he is not the lock-down wing defender Bryant was back in the day.)

I hate comparing all-time greats and saying X is better than Y, because the game evolves and situations are different. Kobe will walk away from the game this summer one of the all-time greats, no question. We’re a long way from knowing Curry’s final legacy, but it will be as probably the greatest shooter and one of the greatest offensive forces the game has known. A guy built for today’s NBA rules and style.

Maybe we could just try to enjoy both and not compare.

Snowed-out Jazz/Wizards game rescheduled for Feb. 18

Bradley Beal, John Wall
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We haven’t seen a back-to-back-to-back in the NBA since the lockout season, when the league tried to cram 66 games in after Christmas.

The Washington Wizards have one now.

The Utah at Washington game originally scheduled for Jan. 23, which was snowed out because of a major storm hitting the Eastern seaboard, has been rescheduled for Thursday, Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. Eastern at Verizon Center.

That makes the Wizards’ schedule:

Feb. 18: vs. Utah
Feb. 19: vs. Detroit
Feb. 20: at Miami

The Jazz have a back-to-back as well, facing Boston on the 19th.

Mike Conley does not crush Knicks free agent dreams, says everything on table

Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley (11) gestures after making a 3-point basket in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
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When you talk about the most underrated players in the NBA, especially with the casual fan, Mike Conley is at the top of the list. The Grizzlies’ point guard has played at an All-Star level for a few seasons now but hasn’t gotten the recognition, in part because it’s Memphis and in part because the West is stacked with quality point guards.

The New York Knicks desperately need an upgrade at the point.

Which has led to the latest fantasy of seemingly every Knick fan (and talking head in the city) — the free agent Conley coming to New York this summer. When asked about it Friday before the Grizzlies and Knicks squared off, Conley didn’t kill the rumors (which in New York is like throwing gasoline on them). Here are his quotes, via Ian Begley of ESPN.

“I think everything will be on the table when that time comes,” Conley said Friday morning after the Grizzlies’ shootaround at Madison Square Garden. “I haven’t committed to anything…

“They’ve got talent, obviously,” he said. “I think [Kristaps] Porzingis surprised a lot of people. He’s going to be very, very good in this league. He already is pretty good. But he’s going to grow each year, and they already have one of the best small forward in Melo [Carmelo Anthony]. They’ve got a young team, so they’ve got a lot of room to improve.”

The smart money is on Conley staying in Memphis, the only NBA team he has ever played for. Conley was very active last summer in recruiting Marc Gasol to remain in Memphis, and has said it would be very difficult to leave him. Plus the Grizzlies can offer more money — one more guaranteed year plus larger raises.

The Knicks will need to lose some salary before July 1 just to offer Conley a max, which likely starts around $24 million (depends on the final salary cap number). What the Knicks can offer is a larger stage for his brand and the chance to bring that brand out of the shade of Gasol and Zach Randolph.

Conley — who is averaging 14.6 points and 6.1 assists per game, is shooting 35 percent from three, is good on the pick-and-roll, plus is one of the best defensive point guards in the game — will have plenty of other suitors as well. He’s one of the best players on the free agent market this summer.